Milt Stevens (1942-2017)

Milt Stevens and Craig Miller in 1981. Photo by Dik Daniels.

Past Worldcon chair and fanzine fan Milton F. Stevens died October 2 of a heart attack, after entering the hospital with pneumonia and other medical problems.

Milt attended his first Los Angeles Science Fantasy Society meeting in 1960 at the age of 17. “I’d been reading science fiction for years before that, so the slide into real fanac was easy,” he wrote. He discovered the club through fan-news columns in the prozines.

Milt Stevens in the 1960s

During the Vietnam War he served in the Navy. Milt always attributed his baldness to shiptime service in the smoking-hot climate of the South China Sea.

By 1970 Milt was President of LASFS — he signed my membership card when I joined. He was somebody to look up to who also became a good friend.

Milt won the Evans-Freehafer Award for service to the club in 1971. He was on the LASFS, Inc. Board of Directors for a couple of decades, and was Chair for around five years. After the original LASFS clubhouse was bought in 1973 Milt dubbed himself the “Lord High Janitor,” having taken on the thankless task of cleaning the place.

An exception at the usually inward-focused LASFS, Milt was among the club’s few nationally-active fanzine publishers and fanpoliticians. He put out an acclaimed perzine called The Passing Parade. He coedited and bankrolled later issues of my fanzine Prehensile. For many years he was a member of the Fantasy Amateur Press Association (FAPA).

1965 APA-L photocover — Milt Stevens is in the lower right corner.

Milt was a gifted humorist, dry and cynical, as though he was equipped with a set of glasses where one lens showed him what should ideally be happening in a set of circumstances, while the other showed him what was really happening, and he could juxtapose these two visions in a provocatively funny way. Milt would subtly include himself among the targets of his joking criticism on some level, however, people who didn’t know him rarely recognized that, and he struggled with the fact that such humility no longer defused people’s wrath in the internet age.

For awhile in the 1970s, Milt, Craig Miller, Elst Weinstein and I got in the habit of meeting for dinner at Mike’s Pizza in Van Nuys. Ed Cox or Ed Finkelstein joined us a couple of times – so that the rubric for these get-togethers became (1) always invite somebody named Ed, and (2) always order “pizza ala cruddo” (as we called pizza with everything). Being a comparative newcomer to the club, I looked forward to hearing Milt reveal all the inside LASFS lore – the Chart, Coventry, The Game of Fandom, and why never to mention spaghetti to a certain member.

He also gave us some early insights into conrunning and bidding for conventions. He was Chair of LA 2000, the original Loscon (1975), and later the 1980 Westercon. And he co-chaired L.A.con II (1984) with Craig, which still holds the attendance record.

Milt worked for LAPD for 32 years, mainly as a civilian crime analyst, a career that gave him a fund of cop stories — all punctuated with violence — like the one about a legendary detective who had (cumulatively) fired his gun five times and killed six people. “How was that?”, listeners always asked. The sixth was in a fight after taking away the guy’s knife. His job also unexpectedly put him in the position of attending a training session where the speaker analyzed the “Satanic symbolism” of such things as – the artwork on the cover of the 1984 Worldcon Souvenir Book.

The most indelible memory I have about Milt’s character is something that happened when the first LASFS clubhouse was on Ventura Blvd., near a T-intersection with Tujunga Ave. One evening a driver took the turn onto Ventura too fast and flipped his car. It skidded on the roof and came to a stop just a few yards down from the clubhouse, engine still turning, and smelling of leaking gasoline. I was with the people who collected at a safe distance, replaying in our imaginations TV show stunts of exploding auto wrecks. Milt, on the other hand, ran to the driver’s side and got him out. That’s what a man’s supposed to do.

Appreciation for his fannish contributions came when Milt was made GoH of Loscon 9 (1982) and Westercon 61 (2008).

I personally had Milt to thank for getting me to start working out at a gym, as he did. For a few years in the Eighties I lost weight and looked as good as I ever would.

He remained active in LASFS all his life. I got to share a table with Milt, Marc Schirmeister and Joe Zeff at the LASFS 75th Anniversary dinner in 2009.

And we were together on a panel at the 4,000th meeting of the Los Angeles Science Fantasy Society in 2014, representing various decades in club history — June Moffatt spoke for the 40s; Bill Ellern, the 50s; Milt Stevens, the 60s; myself, the 70s; Karl Lembke, the 80s; Cathy Beckstead, the 90s; Peter Santell, the 2000s; Mimi Miller, the 2010s.

Dan Goodman, Kara Dalkey, Tom Digby, and Milt Stevens at LASFS in 1976.

Earlier this year he programmed the 2017 Corflu, the convention for fanzine fans, when it met in Los Angeles. (See Milt’s conreport here.) The chair, Marty Cantor, announced today, “I will say it here, he personally paid off the con’s $1200+ budget deficit, and he did so happily as he felt that Corflu was a fannish good and he wanted this series of cons to continue.” Other fans wrote on Facebook about how much they appreciated the conversations they had with him about fanhistory. Milt was passing the torch, and those younger fans learned from him the stories behind fandom’s traditions and legends.

Corflu, It Just Sounds Like a Disease

By Milt Stevens: Approximately 40 people attended Corflu 34 at the Warner Center Marriott in Woodland Hills, California on April 28-30, 2017. Corflu is a convention for people who publish or used to publish fanzines on paper. Yes, paper. If you want to read more about these atavistic characters, you can go to eFanzines.com.

This is the end of the convention.

The banquet. Since most cons no longer have banquets, Corflus have them. The Corflu banquet is in the form of a Sunday brunch, and it includes such traditional items as awards, the guest of honor speech, and other business. The results of the Faan Awards have already been announced.

As you might expect, Corflus don’t handle guest of honorship the way other cons do. We feel we are all worthy of honor, so the name of the goh is picked out of a hat during opening ceremony. The goh is then obligated to give a speech at the banquet. If you really, really don’t want to be goh, you can give the chairman of the con a $20 bribe to have your name removed from the hat. Last year at Chiflu, the chairman , Nigel Rowe, forgot to give himself a bribe and ended up as goh. This year’s guest of honor was Randy Byers who gave a quite well-received talk.

One of the usual items of business at Corflu is the election of the past president of Fan Writers of America (FWA). Fan Writers of America is an organization for people who are doing fan writing, or have done fan writing, or have at least thought about doing fan writing. You might wonder why we would be electing a past president rather than a current president. Well, we’re the sort who don’t like being told what to do, so we never elect a current president to tell us what to do. The past president for 2016 is Pete Young from Thailand.

Another item of business is the choice of a site for next year’s Corflu. The choice for 2018 is Toronto, Canada. In case current international stresses increase, the Toronto Committee will make arrangements to have American fans smuggled across the Canadian border in truckloads of melons.

This is the beginning of the convention.

I thought we might start the convention with opening ceremonies, but Marty Cantor said such things just weren’t done. “Whyzat?” I asked. Marty intoned “TRADITION!!!” and did a funny little dance. It’s hard to argue with a proposition like that.

So we began the con with a panel, “Remembrance of Corflus Past” with Andy Hooper, Jerry Kaufman, and Ted White. Sometimes we get a little bit confused about past, present and future. However, when we can figure out which one is the past we love to reminisce about it. Many and noisy are the sagas of Corflus past. Names like Corflu Chromium and Corflu Titanium make the blood of all trufen run sideways. Names like E Corflu Virus and Chiflu give most fans a rash.

Not long before the end of the convention.

Andy Hooper designed a diabolical trivia contest. There were two teams in the contest, the Slan Boys (Rich Coad, Jerry Kaufman, and myself), and The Winning Team (Sandra Bond, Ted White, and a third person who was a bit too far away for me to recognize.) It’s obviously hubris to name your team The Winning Team, and you know how the gods are about hubris. Of course, they lost. Also, our wildass guesses proved to be luckier than their wildass guesses.

The audience was quite amused by the totally obscure questions and the expressions of indescribable horror they produced on the faces of the panelists.

As an example of an obscure question, “In the softball game at the 1939 Worldcon, what position did Art Widner play?” Of course, we knew who Art Widner was, but fans don’t pay attention to sports. While nobody got the correct answer, Art Widner played catcher in that game.

As an example of a medium grade question, “Of the following articles, which one wasn’t written by Charles Burbee?”

(A) Al Ashley, Successful Novelist
(B) Al Ashley, Indefatigable Gardener
(C) Al Ashley, Elfin Edison
(D) Al Ashley, Galactic Observer

I knew that Al Ashley, Elfin Edison, and Al Ashley, Galactic Observer had been reprinted in A Sense of FAPA and were by Charles Burbee. That gave me a fifty-fifty chance on the other two.

Somewhat after the beginning.

Panel: “Fandom and Us” with Rob Jackson, Karl Lembke, and myself. Are we even in fandom anymore? Does it matter? What the heck is fandom? As a reactionary, I think fandom should be about reading and stuff. It’s the “and stuff” that causes the problem.

Somewhere in the middle.

I think it was nighttime. I could tell because it was dark outside. We were in the con suite. As always, Karl Lembke did a great job with the con suite. After the con, prominent Toronto fan Murray Moore reviewed the con as “The program was good, the cookies were great.” Somebody or possibly several somebodies had donated a case of various wines to the con suite. This was in addition to the homebrew and exotic beers. As the bottles became either half empty or half full, the attendees became either half sober or half inebriated. Funny how things work out that way.

Spike mentioned she was organizing the program for the next World Fantasy Convention. WFC only has two tracks of programming which is a lot more sensible than most cons. Since I’ve organized a few con programs in times past, we talked about doing programs for awhile.

Bill Burns asked me what I thought about Mr. X. I’m not quite sure what I think about Mr. X. I’m one of the few people who regularly writes letters to his fanzine, but I don’t really know anything about him.

I told Michael Dowd I thought he was the most atypical fanzine I had ever encountered. Issues of his fanzine Random Jottings are about the same size as issues of Analog. He has had one issue devoted to Watergate and another devoted to the Samaritans. Several people told me I had a letter of comment in the current issue which Michael was distributing at Corflu. That isn’t really surprising, since I think I write letters to most issues of most fanzines.

After the middle but before the end.

Auctions at Corflus are lively affairs. This year’s auction was heavy on fanzines from the Los Angeles area such as VoM and Shaggy from the forties. The most expensive single item was a hardback anthology The Best From Xero which included material from Dick and Pat Lupoff’s fanzine which sold for $55. Graham Charnock was making bids in the auction while still being in England. Graham was doing it through a laptop carried by Rob Jackson. At Graham’s requests, Rob would move the laptop around so Graham could get a better look at what he of bidding on. At the beginning of this, I described the attendance as “Approximately 40.” Graham was part of the “Approximately.” How should you count someone who is participating in the con from thousands of miles away.

After the beginning but before the middle.

Strawberries. Lots and lots of strawberries. We didn’t pick-up enough room nights, so we had to buy more stuff from the hotel to make up the difference. This took the form of strawberries and chocolate. The chocolate included brownies, and cookies, and candy. With a maximum effort from the entire membership, we were able to consume all of it burp

Probably sometime but maybe not around here.

Panel: “Beyond Numbered Fandoms” with Greg Benford, Sandra Bond, Mike Glyer, and Ted White. The idea of numbered fandoms is based on Arnold Toynbee’s conception of history in his book A Study of History. Toynbee thought a civilization was defined by the universal state and the universal church. With numbered fandoms, the universal state and the universal church are replaced with the Focal Point Fanzine. With the decline of each Focal Point Fanzine, an interregnum begins and fans retreat into the apas (amateur press associations). This model also includes a few barbarian invasions. Strangely enough, this model seemed to work for quite awhile. Then Harlan Ellison proclaimed false seventh fandon, and all fandom was engulfed in guacamole.

Efforts were made to salvage the numbered fandoms model, but they never really worked. There was muttering about a model based on dialectical fanac, but that gave everybody stomach cramps. Some suggested fan history might even be influenced by things outside of fandom such as WWII and the introduction of the hula hoop. Others suggested we might be living in a post modernist fandom where the center was marginalized, the margins were central, and rationalism was the bogey of small minds. Stay tuned for further developments.

LoneStarCon 3 Preliminary Business Meeting

Voters at LoneStarCon 3’s Preliminary Business Meeting on Friday morning struck down motions to eliminate the Fan Hugos, to create a YA category Hugo, and to add a third Best Dramatic Presentation Hugo.

Thanks to Kevin Standlee, Rachael Acks and others for livetweeting the proceedings.

Members voted “object to consideration” to this year’s motion to create a YA Hugo called Best Youth Book. Actually, the maker of the motion asked to withdraw it, but was prevented by another member’s objection, so it had to be put to a vote. YA Hugo proponents kept hope alive, in spite of the defeat, by getting the Business Meeting to form a YA Hugo study committee.

Members also voted to “object to consideration” of Milt Steven’s proposal to repeal the Fan Hugos and Eemeli Aro’s idea for expanding Best Dramatic Presentation to include a third Hugo for short length works of less than 15 minutes. Also failing were two motions to extend eligibility of certain items for the 2014 Retro Hugos (which will be given at Loncon 3 for works published in 1938).

However, members agreed they will take up the Joshua Kronengold/Lisa Padol motion expanding eligibility for the Best Fan Artist Hugo at Saturday’s Main Business Meeting. Under their revised definition “An artist or cartoonist working in any visual or performance medium whose work has appeared through publication in semiprozines or fanzines or through other public, non-professional, display (including at a convention or conventions) during the previous calendar year” will be eligible in the category.

Give ‘em the axe!

That’s what Milt Stevens will be asking voters to do at the 2013 Worldcon Business Meeting – delete the Best Fanzine, Best Fan Writer, and Best Fan Artist Hugo categories from the WSFS Constitution.

Stevens shared the text of his motion with readers of the Smofs listserv and justified it by saying these categories are “susceptible to manipulation” because they get fewer voters and are chronically influenced by people campaigning for themselves. He also expressed frustration with fans’ irreconcilable differences over the definition of a fanzine —

Efforts at compromise have failed. One group says that fanzines are words on paper only, and nothing else can be allowed. Another group thinks fanzines and fan writing are anything the voters can imagine and will tolerate no limitations whatsoever. There is wide dissatisfaction with these three awards, and it doesn’t seem likely to go away.

When Milt and I discussed his idea a few months ago, I argued that the implicit message in his motion was not that fanzine fans refuse to let the awards be abused, but that we quit, we’re abdicating our influence over the future of this subset of the Hugos. And other fans, semipros and bloggers who already feel entitled to control the awards will just tell us don’t let the door bang our butts on the way out.

(Yet I’m intrigued how much Milt has in common with Aidan Moher, who makes some of the same criticisms about the Hugo electorate. Of course, Moher wants to give all the fan Hugos to bloggers, so never the twain shall meet…)

I disagree with the proposal to repeal the fan Hugos because I feel our best interests involve keeping fanzines in the mix for these awards. There are still large numbers of fanzines being published and there’s no reason to legislate the irrelevance of this healthy brand of fanac.

It’s also too bad that the debate over the motion will inevitably make fanzine fans look more like jackasses than we already do, having just spent the last two years getting our alleged political allies to help us reconstitute the Best Fanzine category as we supposedly wanted it to look. Something they were happy to do because they had no intention of asking Hugo Administrators to enforce the result the movers, including Rich Lynch, said the rules change was actually supposed to have.

Like it or not, for fanzine fans the Hugos resemble the joke version of the Laws of Thermodynamics — you can’t win, you can’t break even, and you can’t get out of the game. So, since we can’t get out, we should not be abandoning the influence we still have left.

Update 08/01/2013: Corrected which set of natural laws the joke refers to, per comment.

LASFS at 75

The Los Angeles Science Fantasy Society threw its 75th anniversary bash at the Castaways in Burbank on October 23. Perched high on a hillside our banquet hall had a vast scenic window opening onto a magnificent view of twinkling city lights. It was the perfect place for us, halfway to the stars.

Master of ceremonies John Hertz had not dressed like Beau Brummell (though he sometimes does) which he emphasized by pointing out “This is one of the rare occasions when Len Moffatt is better dressed that I.” John did wear his beanie, however, when he introduced our first speaker, Roy Test.

Roy at last got the attention he’s always deserved as one of the club’s founding members. The late Forry Ackerman was also present at the club’s creation in 1934 and was such an influential part of LASFS history as well as its most polished raconteur that he was able to fully satisfy people’s curiosity about the past. (I snapped a photo of Ackerman waving for the camera at the club’s 70th anniversary, only later discovering Roy Test was there and by luck I had captured Roy walking past in the background of the same picture.) However, Roy’s story is quite interesting in its own right.

After Hertz helped him up to the dais Roy joked, “I was a little more agile when I first started reading sf stories.” He remembered a preliminary club meeting at a movie theater one afternoon. And most of his memories are of meetings at Clifton’s Cafeteria when he was 13 or 14 years old. He remembered the green drink circulating in Clifton’s fountain. He said his mother, Wanda Test, volunteered to be club secretary as a way to come to the meetings “and see what kind of oddballs I was associating with. Maybe it didn’t occur to her I was the oddest one there.”

(According to Forry Ackerman in Mimosa: “That very first meeting of all was attended by nine people. There was a young fan named Roy Test; he was interested in Esperanto, so we called him ‘Esperan-Test’. His mother, Wanda Test, was our first secretary. In those days of the 1930s, Thrilling Wonder Stories was on our minds, so her minutes became known as ‘Thrilling Wanda Stories’.”)

Roy remembered discovering a used bookstore with a trove of very early sf pulps selling for 15 cents each. He worked at a gas station for 10 cents an hour, so every hour-and-a-half he could buy another copy from the magazine’s first year of publication.

Within a few years World War II started, and Test went into the Army Air Corps and piloted B-17 bombers. He is, in fact, still an active flyer in the Commemorative Air Force (see photos of him in uniform here and here.) Roy said he occasionally flies a Russian paratroop plane, the largest single-engine biplane in the world. By coincidence, my family had toured the Planes of Fame museum in Chino a year or so ago and I saw some items donated by Roy on exhibit — the first time I knew that part of his story.

Roy was followed by Len and June Moffatt. It was great to see them together – they’ve been part of LASFS for around 60 years. Other speakers included John DeChancie, Karl Lembke (Chair of the LASFS board of directors), Mel Gilden, Laura Brodian Freas, Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle.

Larry Niven said in 1963 he decided he was going to be a writer and took the Famous Writers School correspondence course. He was then 25 years old. Having met Ray Bradbury years before (when they had the same doctor) he wrote for advice, was referred to Forry Ackerman and ended up attending LASFS meetings at the Silver Lake Playground. That opened the way to all kinds of adventures, and to meeting his future wife at the 1967 Worldcon. Larry said that Fallen Angels(written with Pournelle and Flynn) embodied what he felt about fandom.

Jerry Pournelle quoted Heinlein to the effect that authors who read their own works in public probably have other nasty habits, but he agreed with Niven’s sentiments about Fallen Angels. He too had joined LASFS in the Silver Lake days, when Paul Turner was promoting the idea that we’d someday own our own clubhouse. Jerry said he grew up with a future – “I knew in the 40s I would live to see the first man on the moon. I didn’t know I’d live to see the last one.” Although the future isn’t what it used to be, “I think it’s still there… One of these days we’ll find people who do believe it and we will get our future back.”

Fannish entertainers provided a change of pace between the speakers. Lynn Maudlin sang “Gotta Kill My Clone” and “High Frontier” (her response to the space shuttle tragedies). Storyteller Nick Smith spoke. Charles Lee Jackson II reminisced about Forry Ackerman. And throughout the evening letters were read from our absent friends: Ray Bradbury, Ray Harryhausen, Paul Turner.

I shared a table with Milt Stevens, Marc Schirmeister and Joe Zeff, and also enoyed seeing a lot of other long-time friends.

Thanks to Christian McGuire and Arlene Satin for their excellent work organizing the event. And also for publishing the incredible 75th Anniversary Memory Book. What a treasure that is!

The Power of Both

Two former Hillary Clinton staffers started Vote Both.com after the primaries, a site advocating a unity ticket of Clinton and Obama. Key backers of the “dream ticket” include Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell and Sen. Charles Schumer of New York.

I mention this because Westercon begins this week in Las Vegas, one of the rare conventions that changes sites each year as voted by the members, and I’m reminded that somebody once had the bright idea that “Both” would be the perfect solution for a pair of Westercon bids. Let me tell you how well “Both” worked for us. Then you may consider yourselves warned.

From File 770 #35, August 1982:

Even on the morning of its last day, [the 1982] Westercon had not exhausted its bag of tricks. Prelude: When Portland and Phoenix announced their 1984 Westercon bids, fans noted they were not bidding for the same days – one would have started before July 4, the other after. Certain pundits, who shall remain namelex*, conceived a campaign for BOTH. Let them both win. Let them both put on a Westercon. Let’s go to both. Witty, computer-typed flyers advocated, “If you are a Phoenix local or a Portland local, this is a great opportunity to get more con for your money: You can attend the portion nearest you if you’re on a budget; You can attend both cons for little more than if you were going to the con farther away; LA locals can check on their cats on their way to the other con.”

After a weekend of people running about asking each other whether they voted for “Both,” the bidders agreed to count the ballots after Site Selection closed 7 PM Sunday, and not release the results until the next morning’s Business Meeting. Randy Rau (Phoenix), Craig Miller, Ben Yalow, Pam Davis (Portland) and Bryce Walden (Portland) were the counters. After the counting session, Rau, who was also chair of the ’82 Westercon and therefore custodian of the ballots, walked from the room down the fire stairs to the con level (the most efficient way of getting around, given the elevators). By the time he got to the bottom, somebody came up to him with a rumor that a bid had won by one vote.

Seeing as one of the bids had, indeed, won by one vote, Rau was infuriated. Other Phoenix fans, figuring they had lost by one vote, mobbed the Business Meeting Monday morning demanding to exercise their right to vote at the Business Meeting (which seemed unclearly provided for in the bylaws). Now it was the second year in a row that a breakdown in the site selection process forced the Business Meeting to get involved in who won. (The Los Angeles Science Fantasy Society Board of Directors is the last-resort custodian of Westercon, who had actually been forced to take a role in the ’81 meeting. Since many members of the Board were also bidding for this little thing called the Worldcon, the last thing they wanted was to have to arbitrate this emotional mess.)

“Bullets, not ballots,” suggested Seth Breidbart. After extended private huddling between the bidders and parliamentarian Fred Patten, a decision finally came forth. Rather than risk having to let the meeting vote whether to reopen balloting (which it easily would have done, considering the pack of irate Phoenix fen), Randy Rau announced that the Phoenix bid withdrew. Portland was proclaimed winner. Chairman of the meeting, Bruce Dane, revealed 374 votes were cast; now being rushed to the shredder. There was much applause. Westercon rules actually mandated the release of the voting info, but everybody pretended to forget that in the interests of peace. What had really happened? Milt Stevens’ analysis of the situation led him to believe that the “Both” bid had won. If Portland had won by one vote, the matter could have been resolved by merely sticking to the agreement that balloting was closed the night before. If Phoenix had won by one vote then they wouldn’t have had to pack the Business Meeting. They wouldn’t have had to withdraw their bid to resolve the crisis. (“Both” ceased to exist when one bidder folded.) Nor would there have been such haste to destroy the ballots.

As she was preparing to leave the con, Genny Dazzo loudly announced that she was going back to New York and start a Phoenix in ’84 Worldcon bid, to repay the “Both” bidders for their hubris.

[* A reference to Lex Nakashima, the alleged mastermind.]

The Moral of the Story: “Both” seemed a clever idea to just enough Westercon voters to make the election three times as controversial as it otherwise would have been, and to leave the winner just about as unhappy as the loser. The saving grace in 2008 is that party delegates are much less likely to try and force “Both” on unwilling candidates.